Entries Filed in 'Capitol news'
Money from outside groups seeking to sway legislative elections in Maine has increased 563 percent from 2008 to 2012 according to a new report released today by Maine Citizens for Clean Elections (MCCE). The Shell Game: How Independent Expenditures Have Invaded Maine Since Citizens United is the 11th in a series of reports published by MCCE’s Money and Politics Project.
“Recent court rulings that have weakened our Clean Elections and campaign finance laws are allowing unaccountable outside groups to unleash a flood of money to sway our elections and government,” said BJ McCollister, Program Director for MCCE. “Voters are being left in the dark. A lack of strong disclosure laws make it possible for wealthy special interests to hide their identity when they spend to influence our elections.”
The report shows that some nonprofit organizations, namely those classified under the 501(c) laws, are able to shield the identity of corporate or individual donors behind independent expenditures in Maine legislative and gubernatorial races. Entities are making as many as four to five transfers before making the actual expenditure in Maine races. The campaign finance shell game makes tracking the money a never ending, and at times, impossible process. With increased cover for contributors and the ability to make unlimited independent expenditures, groups are spending up to eleven times the amount of the average campaign budget in highly contested races.
“Voters are hearing more from outside groups than from the candidates themselves,” said McCollister. “It is nearly impossible for voters to find out who is ultimately paying for the political ads in our elections. These large, untraceable expenditures pose a serious risk to our democracy.”
Tags: Fraud in Clean elections
“The governor’s obstructionism is outrageous,” said Rep. Bruce MacDonald, the House Chair of the Education Committee. “This is a gag order that forbid state employees who work for the people from doing their jobs. It hurts Maine citizens who need government to work for them.”
The LePage administration’s obstructionism and interference with public accountability continued on Tuesday when administration appointees failed to appear before the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee and the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee as the panels took up issues of critical importance to Maine people and businesses.
When lawmakers can’t ask questions to heads of departments or their commissioners directly it slows the progress of solving problems. One question often leads to another and a discussion wherein solutions are found and issues solved thus helping move Maine’s economy forward. However with the LePage doctrine of having to put all questions in writing and then wait for written responses critical issues are being bogged down.
Prime examples of this disorder have occurred with the Health and Human Services Committee agenda which included an evaluation of the failed MaineCare rides contract, the loss of federal funding at the Riverview Psychiatric Center and concerns over patient treatment at the facility, as well as the LePage administration’s no-bid contract with the Alexander group to study the state’s anti-poverty programs and health care expansion.
“The administration must be held accountable to the public for its mismanagement,” said Rep. Dick Farnsworth, the House Chair of the Health and Human Services Committee. “Could you imagine if Secretary Sebelius did not report to Congress because she didn’t want to answer hard questions? The people of Maine deserve answers not political obstruction.”
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Tags: LePage's Gag order
The special committee that serves as the key link between Maine people, state government and the health insurance marketplace will finalize its recommendation at its last meeting of the year today, Monday, Dec. 9.
The Health Exchange Advisory Committee will consider a number of proposals that aim to make the health insurance marketplace perform well for Maine people. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. in Room 228 (Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee). Live audio is available at: http://www.maine.gov/legis/ofpr/appropriations_committee/audio/.
“The committee brought together diverse stakeholders who have worked on a consensus basis to do everything we can to make sure the marketplace works for Maine consumers,” said Rep. Sharon Anglin Treat, House chair of the committee. “We know it’s been challenging for many Mainers anxious to sign up for affordable health insurance to use the clunky federal website. Although without a state-based exchange our ability to make changes is limited, nonetheless we will be voting on a number of recommendations that, if followed through, will help Maine families and businesses get the insurance they want and need.”
The proposals before the committee address consumer outreach, transparency on rating factors, the effectiveness of the federal marketplace for the state, the coverage gap, state information on health coverage options and data collection and reporting. The panel will present its report to the Legislature’s Insurance and Financial Services Committee by Dec. 15.
The recommendations that the committee will review include:
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Maine Heritage Policy Center says taxes are a major hurdle to growth – but locals say that’s out of step with homegrown efforts by Colin Woodard for the Portland Press Herald in Eastport, Maine and published with theguardian.com, Thursday 5 December 2013 13.22 EST
Water Street, the main drag in Eastport, America’s easternmost incorporated city, is missing something: boarded up storefronts.
When they were built in the late 19th century, the brick-and-granite blocks were bustling with activity, as shoppers came and went from surrounding homes, sardine canneries, and the archipelago of Canadian islands just across the bay from what was then a town of more than 5,000.
Today the canneries are gone, the border is far less permeable, and Eastport’s population has fallen by three-quarters, lending a ghostly feel to the town, which stands on an island beset by fog and 20ft tides that make the surrounding ocean flow like a river.
But this fall, more shops, galleries and restaurants are staying open, and the rest are closed for the winter, not for good, signs that a long anticipated renaissance is at hand.
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Tags: Maine Heritage Policy Center·Maine taxes
State lawmakers are demanding that the LePage administration release its plan for correcting massive problems with the failing new MaineCare rides system.
Connecticut-based Coordinated Transportation Solutions faced a Dec. 1 deadline to improve its contract or lose its $28.3 million one-year contract to broker rides to appointments for dialysis, mental health services and other appointments, both medical and nonmedical.
“It’s been four days since the deadline for the brokers to get their act together,” said Sen. Margaret Craven, the Senate chair of the Health and Human Services Committee. “Have they made improvements or do we need to cancel the contracts? Is it time for a new system? We don’t know because the administration hasn’t shared their plan.”
Lawmakers have introduced bills to fix the MaineCare rides system. Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson of Allagash is sponsoring a bill to cancel the failed contracts, and Sen. Colleen Lachowicz of Waterville is sponsoring a bill to create a more reliable and efficient system based on the Vermont model.
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The Maine’s People Alliance contends that LePage gave the contract for the DHHS and DOL office to a political donor of his campaign. That assertion is backed up by a Portland Press Herald report.
At a press conference and protest march, two dozen lawmakers, community leaders, and advocates strongly opposed the LePage administration’s decision to move the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and Department of Labor (DOL) offices from the service center in downtown Portland to the airport area in South Portland.
Portland Mayor Michael Brennan said the move “didn’t make any sense” and called on Governor LePage to “step in and stop this process.”
The downtown offices have easy access to public transport while the new proposed location near the airport has access but the cost to get there could be prohibitive for some DHHS and DOL clients. A roundtrip bus ride from the downtown Pulse METRO hub to the new location takes 80 minutes, stops 72 times, and costs $3.00. A one way taxi ride costs $17.
“The new location may only be four miles as the crow flies but, if you don’t have a car, those four miles can take you forty-minutes by bus, with 36 stops,” said Justin Alfond, the Maine Senate President. “For many, their lives are hard enough and giving folks one more barrier to get over can only do one thing—discourage those who already feel discouraged and take away hope from those who may feel hopeless. The bottom line is that the LePage administration is making it harder for people to get their lives back.”
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Through the USDA Rural Development a total of $462,591,340 in the areas of homeownership, business assistance, energy and renewable energy development, water and wastewater and community facilities in Maine.
“These investments represent an historic level of funding – the largest ever by Rural Development in Maine, of which the impact can be felt in nearly every part of a rural community. From assisting Maine families gain equity for a more secure future through homeownership, to assisting rural businesses to expand and grow to supporting community facilities such as health clinics, libraries and fire stations, our work is critical in strengthening rural Maine communities,” said USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel.
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Tags: Agriculture·Maine rural areas
The Health Exchange Advisory Committee on Monday heard that while consumers are finding great improvement with the Affordable Care Act website, many Mainers are falling into the coverage gap created by Gov. Paul LePage’s refusal to accept federal health care dollars.
“Maine consumers are having a much better experience with healthcare.gov. For anyone who wants health care starting Jan. 1, now is the time to sign up, whether it’s through the website, over the phone or in person,” said Rep. Sharon Anglin Treat, co-chair of the committee. “The coverage gap is a big problem. It’s clearly a problem not only for the people who don’t have insurance but also for the affordability and functioning of the entire health care system.”
The Affordable Care Act anticipated that the states would expand their Medicaid programs so more of their residents would have access to health care coverage. Because of LePage’s actions, 70,000 Mainers, including 3,000 veterans, will not have the access they were intended to have under the ACA. An estimated 25,000 Mainers who won’t have coverage through MaineCare expansion are also ineligible for subsidies through the health care marketplace.
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Closing corporate loopholes and scaling back tax breaks for big business were among the top recommendations of a commission charged with finding $40 million in savings in the state budget.The commission agreed to a preliminary menu to present to the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee on Dec. 12.
“Decisions like these are hard to make but unfortunately the Governor’s budget has left us with few choices,” said Rep. Adam Goode, the House chair of the panel. “We can either ask corporations and big businesses to chip in or ask Maine families and small businesses to pay more in property taxes. We are coming down on the side of families and businesses on Main Street.”
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More than four years since the end of the Great Recession of 2007-2009, nearly 50,000 Maine workers are unemployed and more than 50,000 others can find only part-time jobs or have left the work force. These are among the findings of The State of Working Maine in 2013, a new report by economist Joel Johnson released today by the Maine Center for Economic Policy (MECEP).
“Workers in Maine and across the nation remain in crisis,” the MECEP report found. “The typical working Mainer has yet to find relief from a long-term economic malaise that began more than 30 years ago and the lingering effects of the Great Recession of 2007-2009.”
The report also found that the 6.7 percent official unemployment rate is substantially higher than the 4 to 5 percent pre-recession rate. Maine has only recovered 34 percent of the more than 29,000 payroll jobs lost as a result of the recession. Long-term unemployment has shown little improvement since the end of the recession. Over one-third of Maine’s 50,000 unemployed have been without a job for more than six months.
“Even with a job, many Mainers find their wages insufficient to support them and their families,” said Johnson. “Wages and incomes are not keeping pace with the growth in productivity or the growth of the overall economy.”
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